Get rich, slim and buff! (no credit card needed)

man in white coatFirstly, you can relax. I’m not selling you anything in this article. So put away that credit card, pull up a chair and let’s chat.

Second, I don’t claim to be a doctor or nutritional research scientist. But this article is based on science.

Third, whilst I haven’t appeared on the front cover of Men’s Health (yet), I have put the stuff in this article into effect in my own life and the results shocked me. In a good way.

Food is a big and important subject.  We all eat it but The Escape Artist suspects that many people are not getting value from their food spending.

Paradoxically, it turns out that some of the cheapest foods (e.g. vegetables) are the best for you, health-wise. If we ate like we were a bit poorer, we would be healthier, slimmer and happier (as well as richer).

The Escape Artist has previously solved the obesity crisis and is therefore puzzled as to why a lot of people still seem to struggle with their weight in the UK (please don’t get me started on the USA).

Some personal history: between the ages of 21 and about 40, I fought a losing battle to keep my weight down (or more accurately, to keep the fat off). The irony was that I did a lot of cardio based exercise: running and cycling in particular. This exercise no doubt had some health benefits but it didn’t stop me being over-weight .

I was never obese but I have to be honest with you, dear readers, that I had muffin tops and was more keg than six-pack. Funnily enough, at the same time I loved savoury carbohydrates including but not limited to: Pies, Pasta, Pringles, Pizza, Pasties and Pot Noodles.

At this point, those of you with Sherlock Holmes style powers of deduction may detect a link between my diet and being over-weight. If so, you are way ahead of me…at least until age 40 when I discovered The New Evolution Diet*.  Before then I failed to join the dots. As Homer Simpson might say….Doh!

But to be fair to me, no one in authority was telling me to cut out the carbs. The problem is that most of the nutrition advice we’ve been given over the past 50 years is wrong.

The main way in which its wrong is that it doesn’t work. But its also wrong in the sense that its often been inconsistent, confusing and biased.

To illustrate, here is a summary of conventional diet advice:

  1. Reduce your calorie intake
  2. Burn more calories by doing lots of exercise
  3. Use willpower to eat less
  4. Eat 5 pieces of fruit or vegetables a day
  5. Avoid fat
  6. Eat plenty of carbohydrates (e.g. potatoes, rice, bread)
  7. Count calories: the number consumed matters more than the food type
  8. Supplement your vitamin intake via pills

Most of this is ineffective nonsense. It is the shit they tell you at Fat Fighters.

It’s hard to imagine a less effective way to help people lose weight than to tell them:

  • eat less and deprive themselves
  • think about food all the time
  • eat their greens like they are something to be endured
  • look forward to their “treats” (Cake!)
  • oh by the way its really difficult, so you’ll probably fail

But this is the frame of reference that most people in the Prison Camp have been given.

The Escape Artist believes in freedom and doesn’t like being told what to do by government, quangos, the media, advertising, medical committees, schools and large food corporations.

I am also wary of the advice given by scientists funded by government or the food manufacturers. Even university researchers need funding and if a breakfast cereal manufacturer is paying for the study, don’t you think that might make you pause before accepting the findings that New Chocolate OatyflakesTM are good for you?

The Escape Artist believes in the scientific process. But whilst science can provide evidence, I agree with Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) that for the last 50 years or so science has mostly failed us in the area of nutrition.

So let’s talk about what works. To be more precise, what works for me. It may or may not work for you. But please don’t assume it’s wrong until you have tried it for yourself.

1. Understand evolution

We humans evolved over millennia to thrive on the natural foods available in our environment.

Genetically we remain essentially identical to a caveman of 30,000 years ago. Prior to the agricultural revolution we ate things that grew wild (fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, berries etc) or things that ran, swam or flew (game, birds, fish). So our bodies are very well-adapted to eating these types of foods.

Isn’t it plausible that we are poorly-adapted to live on the modern diet of processed foods made in factories?

Wheat, farmed rice and other agricultural products have only been around for about 10,000 years since the agricultural revolution. Worse, crisps, fizzy drinks, sweets and other industrial foods have only been around for a couple of hundred years. This is a fraction of a nano-second in evolutionary time. We have not had time to evolve to do well on that stuff.

2. Have a vision of success

In order to get great results, you need to visualise those results…and really want them.

When I was at college I got in shape from rowing training so I remember what “success” looked like. For others it might be getting down to the same weight as your wedding day or fitting into a particular item of clothing. Or wanting to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Whatever works for you.

After college, I entered the Prison Camp and started to put on weight. I still wanted to be slim and have some muscle definition…I just thought that it wasn’t possible whilst getting older and holding down a job. Which brings us to number 3…

3. Ditch limiting beliefs

From 21 until 40, I assumed that being slim was not possible for someone with my genetic inheritance, age and a full-on office job that included travel and eating on the go.

It turns out that this was a limiting belief – something that was untrue that nevertheless held me back. Perhaps I told myself this to let me “off the hook” and evade responsibility for my own actions?

The propaganda all around you in the Prison Camp reinforces our limiting beliefs. People talk as if getting fat is a natural and inevitable part of ageing. This is bullshit.

One thing that helped me ditch this limiting belief was seeing a striking example. One summer holiday, we were renting the cottage next to a farmhouse in rural France owned by an old British guy. At first glance he looked like the archetypal soft middle class Brit in his sixties that had retired to France with his wife.

But he ate natural foods and did a lot of manual labour like wood chopping, building fences etc. One warm day he walked past with his top off and holy fuck, the guy was ripped like Rambo. This got me thinking about what might be possible for me as someone much younger.

4. Accept only the best

Self-deprivation does not work.

We are constantly surrounded by food choices. Choice and temptation are infinite in modern society. But willpower is like a cheap battery that runs out before long.

So rather than rely on willpower, we need to make choices where we put ourselves first. So frame those choices not as denying yourself treats but rather as only accepting the best, natural food for yourself. Paradoxically, the best food for you health wise is amongst the cheapest.

5. Eat more

The Escape Artist likes food. So I eat a lot of it; as much as I want. This is how we would have lived in our natural environment. After a productive hunt, cavemen would not have counted calories, they would have eaten until they were full.

Its amazing how much high calorie natural high fat food I am able to eat without getting fat. I douse food in olive oil or butter.  I eat avocado, olives, peanuts, cream, eggs etc etc. Another paradox – eating fat does not make us fat.

I think it’s almost impossible for a normal person to get obese eating natural foods. Try getting fat by eating as much salmon, brocolli and spinach as you can and let me know how you get on.

6. Understand addictive behaviours

It is really, really hard to lose weight on a diet that involves lots of carbohydrate, especially processed carbohydrates. Our bodies crave energy rich foods and in our natural ancestral environment, pure sugar and other forms of refined carbohydrate were not available to us.

Speaking as a former carb addict, there is something about that stuff that defies moderation. Eating processed carbs does not satisfy us for long. Our bodies quickly break down carbohydrate into simple sugars. A bowl of pasta eaten is just a bowl of sugar inside us in 20 minutes time. The sugar rush wears off and a few hours later you are looking for your next hit.

Pringles used the advertising slogan “Once you pop, you can’t stop“. Like all the best advertising, this takes a fundamental underlying truth about the product and makes a selling point of it.

Trying to eat addictive foods in moderation is a bit like trying to take heroin in moderation. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you have to say no. Instead, get that stuff out of your house and your line of sight.

For some people, eating junk is a form of self-medication for some underlying emotional trauma. Diet advice will probably never help those people; they need to identify and deal with the underlying emotional issue.

7. It’s hard to exercise yourself slim

In the Prison Camp I got into the habit of long periods of cardio.  I would go out for long runs or for hours on my bike. I found this therapeautic and it helped me unwind from work.

I still enjoy long runs and cycle rides. But they don’t help me lose weight.

My evidence for this is when I cycled the length of France, spending all day every day on a bike for over a week.  I must have burnt a gazillion calories with no noticeable weight loss resulting. My appetite responded by cranking up to ensure that I got enough food to fuel myself. I came home weighing exactly the same as before.

Exercise is essential for living a good life…but the interesting thing is that if you just want to be slim, you don’t need to do much exercise at all.

*If you want to read the science and the studies that sit behind this article, I recommend you read The De Vany Diet (also called The New Evolution Diet outside the UK) free from your local library.

You can follow The Escape Artist on Twitter here

28 comments

  1. eromgiw · · Reply

    There’s lots of free Low Carb advice here too:
    http://www.dietdoctor.com/how-to-lose-weight

  2. I’m lucky that I seem to like eating natural foods and exercise and even if I didn’t I find it hard to put weight on anyway.

    However I do think it’s worth acknowledging that cakes, crisps and sweets are pretty damn tasty and in most walks of modern life they are coming at you from all angles. Most of the people doing weight watchers would just not give up that stuff, even if they’d read this well reasoned article. I told my mum I was trying a no sugar diet and found that it helped me get less headaches and maybe she should try it and she was like.. No effing way mate! Despite always complaining about headaches herself.

    Since dabbling with being quite strict with it I now think that a balance is fine as long as you know what you are getting yourself into.

    With regards to exposure, It may be easier now you’re out of the camp but every week if not more often someone brings donuts or cakes into my office. Now I can easily go to the supermarket and miss out the naughty aisles but there is no way I’m turning down a free donut 🙂

    Anyway I guess my point is that I think you can have a balance with some naughty treats every so often as long as it’s not every day and as long as you are fairly active.

    I do notice I feel generally more lethargic after eating sugary treats or mega carb fests so there is definitely something in the “it’s crap and terrible for you” line of thinking but I don’t mind the trade off as long as it’s only say once a week.

    On the science side of things, I’ve read about plenty of studies concluding that sugar is not in anyway addictive. It may not be physiologically but in experience something tells me different. It also pisses me off that there is a lot of pseudo science bollocks out there surrounding all natural, organic, and superfoods when really you just need to keep it simple and eat fruit, nuts and veg in the most natural way you can find them (which is clearly what you are advocating, top stuff!)

    Bit of a rambling comment there, apologies I’m tired from being in the office for a whole 3 days this week so far 🙂

    1. Yes, I think you are bang on TFS. I don’t think sugar is really addictive in the same way as heroin…but it is habit forming and it is something our bodies learn to crave. Fortunately, cold turkey from sugar is easy…we are not talking Trainspotting here…

    2. BeatTheSeasons · · Reply

      @ TFS – Do you really have to eat food just because it’s free?! The only time I get tempted by all that stuff is if I’ve not brought enough healthy lunch in. Even then, almost 100% of what my colleagues bring in is factory made cakes, not the real deal, so a quick scan of the ingredients or to be honest one bite is usually enough to put me off anyway.

  3. wow Mr Escape Artiste, all this equity volatility going on and your talking about diet and exercise!!!
    Impressed.

    1. Dawn – you raise a good point there. Which is that there is no point focussing on what I can’t control (what the equity market does).

      Its better for my happiness to focus on stuff that I can control and that makes a real difference to my quality of life. Yes, if the stock market really crashes I’ll be looking at loading up the wheelbarrow with cheap equities…but until then I’ll focus on my workouts 🙂

  4. I eat in this way and it’s been helpful in many respects. I suspect you may enjoy Body By Science which is a book by an American emergency physician who is also a strength trainer. It’s a super fascinating book about the safest and most efficient way to get stronger, leaner and fitter. He is against cardio for the reasons you describe.

    1. Thanks for the book tip…sounds interesting….I had a quick look and it looks like its recommending doing fewer but higher intensity work outs…which makes sense to me.

  5. No point in saving a large pile of money unless you are going to live a healthy life for as long as possible to enjoy it.

    I’m really not sure obese, heavy smoking, sedentary types need to bother about saving much for the future as the odds are stacked against them to live a long life after retirement and the years they do have will be cheap due to the fact they are so sedentary.

    1. I used to work with someone whose view was exactly that – he didnt have a pension or any savings as he didnt expect to make retirement, he smoked heavily, he drank heavily, no exercise and spent his money on luxury holidays around the world with the view – do the travel now while he had the ‘health’ to do so. His family history was pretty poor with many of his relatives including his both his parents dying in their 50s.

  6. Yes, public understanding of diet is appalling. Virtually everyone thinks you lose weight by choosing the low-fat option and going to the gym.

    But this is all new to me too. In fact, I came across both the FI and the low-carb communities about six months ago. As you can imagine, it’s been an enlightening period. I never knew I’d add biochemistry to my list of interests.

    1. Nick Ferrari on LBC is covering this very topic at the moment.

    2. low-fat = high sugar -> just read the label!

  7. BeatTheSeasons · · Reply

    We’ve not gone down the whole paleo anti-carbs route, but we do eat mainly natural foods and my OH makes all our bread. Sourdough is miles better than processed bread or even homemade bread baked using dried yeast, both in terms of taste and affect on the body. Humans have probably been eating ‘proper’ bread for at least 10,000 years, but sadly mainly Chorleywood nonsense over the last few decades.

    Sugar is definitely addictive to many people. As an experiment my OH hasn’t eaten any processed sugar since 1st January this year, and for an initial period avoided even natural sugars like fructose in fruit to break the addiction cycle. Not only has she lost weight but there have been various other physical and psychological benefits to her health.

    And another thing… there has never been a culture in history like ours which eats three massive meals a day, so no wonder we’re all fat. And what’s with going for a walk AFTER your meal? Our bodies were clearly designed to do the exercise first, we didn’t have fridge freezers or pub lunches in caveman times.

  8. BeatTheSeasons · · Reply

    The ironic thing about “low-fat” is that fat is often what gives food its taste. Low fat versions of foods which normally contain a lot of fat typically have masses of sugar added to mask the fact they taste rubbish, and this makes them more unhealthy than the original full fat versions!

  9. therhino · · Reply

    ERE has two useful insights into the realm of diets:

    (a) “When medical studies disagree, it typically means that the
    truth is not important enough to be easily determined.”

    Just substitute ‘bestselling diet books’ for medical studies here.

    And:

    (b). “It really all boils down to two rules

    1. First law of thermodynamics (energy is conserved). Any food
    energy eaten that is not used will be stored (as fat).

    2. Seeing that you are human, feel free to use any kind of
    complication of the above rule that excites you, but it
    really boils down to rule number 1.”

    And thats it in a highly nutritious and organic nutshell..

  10. Excellent article TEA. I would also recommend the film ‘Fed Up’ available on Netflix, which reinforces pretty much everything you have said. It made me change my attitude to sugar and carbohydrates and I try to consume real food as much as possible.

    1. Thanks for the comment and the recommendation…I’ve just watched the film “Fed Up”….a great film…but sad that things have got that bad (foodwise) in parts of the USA.

  11. I also rowed many years ago, eating loads of carbs was a big part of the training regime, unfortunately it can help form bad habits that are toxic when the training stops. My weight ‘journey’ since then has been very similar to the TEAs, with a lot of wasted time and energy in the gym just to stay reasonably in shape, dropping the carbs is the way forward, though the supermarkets will do all they can to keep you buying the processed crap!

  12. meglinson · · Reply

    Like you I am a keen cyclist – can I ask what you eat on the bike for a long ride? I imagine gels, flapjacks, power bars, jelly babies are all a no……….

    1. Bananas work for me & are popular with cyclists (and chimps). Yes, they are starchy but are natural and tasty.

  13. If you’re diet is high in saturated fats (butter, cheese, cream, fatty meat etc.) it may be worth having your cholesterol level measured from time to time as you could be at an increased risk of heart disease.

  14. You said: Wheat, farmed rice and other agricultural products have only been around for about 10,000 years since the agricultural revolution.

    Coincidentally, the brain development of humans accellerated starting around 10,000 years ago, evolving us from homo sapiens to homo homo sapiens. Scientists speculate that carbohydrates fueled the growth in brain size. It’s possible to eat like a caveman and be slim but is it smart to ignore the evolution of the past 10,000 years?

    1. Scientists speculate that carbohydrates fuelled the growth in brain size

      Now Bart, I’m one of your biggest fans. I love the show and everything. But really…speculation and no source and no studies cited. Doh!

      I know this is the internet but you are going to have to do better than that. Go and ask your sister Lisa for some help with your homework if necessary.

  15. Well I agree, apart from the grain-bashing. To accept fully the paleo argument is yet again buying into someone else’s (Mark Sisson’s?) ideology, and one where money changes hands at some point.

    I think it is perfectly reasonable to accept grains in a diet and concentrate on eliminating packaged, processed and sweetened foods. Many rice-eaters in the world are extremely thin, which I think says a lot really.

    Otherwise yes, you have probably hit the nail on the head – ditch the processed crap and stay thin!

    1. Money changing hands at some point? To buy food in a capitalist economy? Shocker!

  16. Was thinking more of the books and supplements from Mr Sissons

    1. Fair point. It is of course possible to eat paleo (or some version thereof) without buying anyone’s supplements…those cavemen certainly wouldn’t have had the supplements and I don’t buy them.

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